DETROIT -- Nissan Motor Corp.'s modular platform saves money by using common components. But owners rarely notice; most of the shared parts are unseen under the hood.
Now Nissan is rolling the dice on a new plan to use common visible design features as well.
Items such as steering wheels, side mirrors and door handles increasingly will be standardized across the lineup, Nissan global design chief Shiro Nakamura told Automotive News.
The gambit risks cookie-cutter looks and a cheapened image. But if done right, Nakamura argues, it can cut costs, raise the level of perceived quality and help cement the brand's identity.
"We are going to use more common visible parts," Nakamura said on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show. "There are cost and quality benefits."
The trick will be elevating trim on entry-level vehicles to that of pricier segments, he said.
Like most manufacturers, Nissan traditionally equips lower-tier vehicles with lower-cost steering wheels, mirrors, handles, audio systems and climate controls.
Now Nissan wants to standardize the designs of those parts at a loftier level. The additional volume should deliver lower costs and better overall quality, Nakamura said. The aim is to lift the perceived quality of Nissan's more affordable vehicles while unifying the brand's styling.
"For cheaper cars, there is a benefit because the quality has been raised," he said, adding that cost savings will be plowed back into better components and more sophisticated styling.
Nakamura downplayed the risk of creating a one-size-fits-all impression. Most customers won't notice the standardized touch points, "if it is carefully managed," he said.
The effort is the next phase of Nissan's new strategy of using common components to maximize economies of scale. At the platform level, Nissan is cooperating with French alliance partner Renault SA on the new approach, dubbed the Common Module Family, or CMF.
Lower purchasing costs
By sharing more parts, the companies aim to cut purchasing costs 20 to 30 percent and slash investment in engineering 30 to 40 percent. The redesigned Rogue crossover that arrived in late 2013 was the first Nissan vehicle developed using the new strategy.
When the first wave of CMF vehicle launches is complete in 2016, Renault and Nissan aim to be churning out 1.5 million midsize and larger vehicles a year from the same stock of shared parts.
Nakamura declined to estimate cost savings from doubling down on shared visible components but added it was important for Nissan and Renault to maintain distinct design languages.
Designers will start, he said, by unifying Nissan's climate and audio control interfaces.